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Sci-Fi Classic: Farnham’s Freehold By Robert Heinlein

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farnham.jpg I’ve always been a major fan of Robert Heinlein. Actually, scratch that. I’ve always been a major fan of Robert Heinlein’s early work. Old age did not do well by Bob H, and as he got older his biting, pointed writing became bitter and the sexual freedom he espoused in his work turned into the mad ravings of a crazy old man who was clearly, despite his age, still very very horny. His early and mid-career work is genius though, and he’s one of the original fathers of meaningful, modern science fiction. He’s also written a lot of books, forty plus years of material actually, and even though I’m something of a Heinlein superfan there’s still some of his stuff I’ve missed. Stuff like “Farnham’s Freehold”.

“Farnham’s Freehold” fell into my lap courtesy of my brother in-law, who’s blind and therefore has awesome access to all kinds of free reading material online. He has access to thousands of books in plain text format, which he then plugs into a voice program to read it back to him. He had “Farnham’s Freehold” sitting on his computer, and when I saw Heinlein’s name on it I demanded he hand it over. So I spent the next few nights squinting into my Treo, where I’d dumped the text of the novel in a blatant act of literary piracy. Hey, give me a break here. It’s not like you can walk into a bookstore and find it on a shelf. I read whatever I can get my hands on.

As a Heinlein fan I know how hit or miss he can be as an author, but it only took a few pages before I knew “Farnham” was a hit. The book instantly sucked me in, with its Cold War era tale of a family hiding inside a home constructed bomb shelter when the doomsday clock strikes eleven and nuclear war lands right on top of them. The interesting thing about Heinlein’s writing, perhaps here more than in anything else he’s ever done, is the way in which he manages to convey such a vivid picture of what’s happening… but without bothering with actual visual descriptions of the environment in which he thrusts his characters. Rather than describing the way his world looks, Heinlein chooses instead to describe the way his characters react to it, and through them his readers not only get the picture, but sometimes a deeper understanding than you’d get had he described simple surface knowledge.